New York, April 7: Female students perform better when in a small group that has an equal or higher number of women, says a study led by an Indian American researcher.
Usually, fewer women enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields than their male peers. Now a research team led by Nilanjana Dasgupta at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, reports one promising intervention that can effectively close the gender gap.
They found among other things that women, particularly first-year students, participate more actively and feel less anxious when they are able to work in small groups or “micro environments” that are mostly female or that have equal numbers of men and women compared to mostly male groups.
“Even in learning environments where women are a tiny minority, if we can create work teams with a high percentage of women, those promote women’s success by reducing worry and anxiety,” Dasgupta said.
The researchers randomly assigned female engineering students to one of three, four-person groups of varying composition, 75 percent, 50 percent, or 25 percent women.
Each group had one real study participant, always female, who was unaware that the others were engineering research assistants (RA) trained to behave in a consistent manner.
The RAs evaluated the real participants’ verbal behaviour in the team. The participant privately reported her worries, anxieties, confidence in her engineering ability, how visible she felt in the group, and her career aspirations after the team work sessions.
“I think these findings have important implication for many male-dominated fields like physical sciences, computing, technology and business.
“I use engineering as a case in point in this study, but the main take-aways can be generalised,” Dasgupta said.
The study appeared online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.